Some gases worse than others

Parliamentary Environmental Commissioner Simon Upton latest report makes for interesting reading

THE LATEST report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton makes interesting reading for the agricultural sector and its constant critics.

Upton’s report marks a departure from widespread calls to drag agriculture into an expanded ‘all gases, all sectors’ version of the current Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Instead, he has proposed separate trading systems for fossil and biological emissions to help tackle climate change. This so-called ‘landscape approach’ would deal with agricultural greenhouse gases and forest sinks together – and separately from CO2.

Upton’s new report suggests that forestry carbon sinks should only be used for offsetting biological emissions like methane. Carbon emissions from, for instance, fossil fuels should be brought to zero by other means.

The agricultural sector has been calling for just such a change in policy makers’ views on methane and other carbon emissions. This has been backed, in the past 18 months or so, by numerous scientists supporting the setting of a separate methane target in the Zero Carbon Bill, to reduce and stabilise methane, while carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide reduce to net zero.

This is aligned with work by the Productivity Commission, research by Dr Andy Reisinger of the New Zealand Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, and most recently by Professor Myles Allan, of Oxford University, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Farming organisations are calling on the Government to take note of these new findings – which align with the latest and emerging science.

As Beef + Lamb NZ chairman Andrew Morrison says, it is now essential that ministers considering the shape of the Zero Carbon Bill, and that members of the Interim Climate Change Committee and the future Climate Change Commission, take the parliamentary commissioner’s findings into account when setting policy.

“This work adds to the growing evidence base developed over the past few years about how methane — a biological emission from animals — differs from carbon dioxide in its impact on global warming,” adds DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle.

Professor Dave Frame, the director of Victoria University’s Climate Change Research Institute, said Upton’s report is “thoughtful and constructive” and acknowledges the cumulative differences between gases.

Critics claim this alternative approach would be ‘letting farmers off the hook’. Although these same critics have always argued about the ‘science of climate change’, they seem to conveniently forget this when the science does not back their narrative.

As BLNZ says, the PCE report shows a clear way forward for NZ on climate change and recommends a science-based approach, which fits with the principle of each sector being responsible for its own emissions — and for tackling them.

Ministers, policy makers and farming critics must take note: it is difficult to argue against the science.